Sunday, August 10, 2008

KLF Appreciation Week

Timelords - Doctorin' The Tardis [1991]

As a follow-up to Toybreaker's post about "The Manual", SV4 sent us this great BBC program about The K Foundation burning a million quid.

JAMs - It's Grim Up North [1991]

I have a keen fascination with and appreciation for creatives who tread the line between artistic agendas and popular culture - especially those who infiltrate pop culture to parody it. Artists are supposed to hold a mirror to culture, and sleeping with the enemy is sometimes the best way to render an accurate reflection. [I've always been too adversarial with the mainstream by nature to get on the inside long enough to really do proper damage before running out to shower. On a small scale, we were there with Dorkwave for a hot minute...]

KLF - White Room film promo [1991]

When KLF first arrived in the United Sates on Wax Trax! Records, they were clearly not just another techno band. I don't think anyone really knew what to make of them at the time, but it was something different and exciting. It was however a hot minute, and to be honest, I didn't keep up with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty's activities much after their retirement from the music industry in 1992. They did go out in a smashing way:

On 12 February 1992, The KLF and crust punk group Extreme Noise Terror performed a live version of "3 a.m. Eternal" at the BRIT Awards, the British Phonographic Industry's annual awards show; a "violently antagonistic performance" in front of "a stunned music-business audience". Drummond and Cauty had planned to throw buckets of sheep's blood over the audience, but were prevented from doing so due to opposition from BBC lawyers and "hardcore vegans" Extreme Noise Terror. The performance was instead garnished by a limping, kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. As the band left the stage, The KLF's promoter and narrator Scott Piering announced over the PA system that "The KLF have now left the music business". Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for ewe—bon appetit" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties.

KLF vs ENT - 3 a.m. Eternal, live at the BRIT Awards [1992]

That certainly wasn't the end, and despite getting next to zero press on this side of the pond after that point, Drummond and Cauty remained active. They played the media better than anyone [clearly the likes of Damien Hirst, Fischerpooner and Justice were taking notes,] but Drummond and Cauty were truly tortured artists who couldn't escape their success - even by burning all their money.

They established the K Foundation in 1993, focusing on Situationist-inspired art projects. The K Foundation's first major stunt was awarding £40,000 to Rachel Whiteread [who's actually one of my favorite artists] for being "worst artist of the year"; not coincidentally on the same evening she won the 2004 Turner Prize - Britain's highest honor for young artists, which happened to come with exactly half the prize money of the K Foundation Award.

They next attempted to exhibit £1M cash nailed to a board, but no major gallery would take them up on it. On August 23rd of 1994, Drummond and Cauty incinerated £1M in crisp £50 notes on a Scottish island - the bulk of the funds left in KLF's account. Almost half of the £6M the pair had made went to taxes and the rest financed elaborate productions.
Initially The KLF's earnings were to be distributed by way of a fund for struggling artists managed by the K Foundation, Drummond and Cauty's new post-KLF art project, but, said Drummond, "We realised that struggling artists are meant to struggle, that's the whole point." Instead the duo decided to create art with the money.

The project, K Foundation Burn a Million Quid was documented in a film and a book. A single brick was made from the ashes. The act of burning remains their most brazen and baffling performance to many. Neither Drummond or Cauty have been able to explain exactly why they did it.

Despite the KLF's official retirement and a 23 year moratorium on K Foundation activities, the pair returned in 1997 with Fuck the Millennium: a new record, multimedia campaign and stage spectacle under the project name 2K. Drummond and Cauty dressed as elderly men in motorized wheelchairs wearing their iconic horns. The mock comeback was an attempt to once and for all bury the mythology of the KLF. Bill Drummond released his memoir in 2000, in which he recounts, "The show was a success, the record stiffing at number twenty-eight in the charts was just what the doctor ordered. We had not only blown it, we had destroyed whatever remnants of credibility, bankability and myth we had left."

2K - Live at the Barbican [1997]

Jimmy Cauty has since recorded with former collaborators Alex Paterson and Guy Pratt as Transit Kings and has exhibited at the The Aquarium L-13 gallery in London, including Blackoff - an installation/"terror aware" gift shop. [I want to note for the record that Jon Ozias had a very similar idea two years prior.] Bill Drummond has authored several books and helped establish The Foundry, an arts center London. A thorough discography can be found at KLF Communications dot net and a comprehensive archive of videos here.

As a side note, I think the biggest mistake they ever made was not releasing The Black Room. Drummond said of the project:
Z asks about the Black Room album that me and Jimmy as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu started but were too afraid to complete. I tell him how, when I was standing in the twilight of the recording booth, the microphone in front of me, Jimmy's magnificent metal guitar riffs roaring in my headphones, a voice came out of me which I had never heard before, words flowed that I had never written and a precipice appeared before me. I crept forward and looked over the edge: the abyss. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's LP, The Black Room, was never finished.

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